Feb 15, 2011 12:00AM

Edward Burtynsky's Oil Culture

Winner of the 2010 And/Or Book Award for Photography.

An epiphany is a wonderful thing. It is a moment of pure clarity amongst the clutter. I think my last epiphany was realising what I wanted to have for lunch today, but somehow I don't think that qualifies. Especially when you compare it to someone like Edward Burtynsky.

In 1997 he had an epiphany that the industrial landscape surrounding us was only made possible by the discovery of oil and the mechanical advantage of the internal combustion engine. OK. You win, Edward.

After this realisation he spent the next ten years of his life researching and photographing every oil field than he could get within a tripod of. Freeways, refineries and automobile plants all feature, and it's amazing to marvel at what the human race are capable of building - and on the flip side, what we are capable of destroying.

The grotesquely beautiful series of photographs documents the culture of oil and raises questions about the future of the environment.

Rather than pointing the finger, Burtynsky's work is more of a series of visual notations, some of which provoke an eerie feeling that these are images we're not really supposed to be seeing. The resulting book of photographs, Oil, was recently awarded the 2010 And/Or Book Award for Photography.

Whether you're interested in photography, the environment, or both, Burtynsky's series will definitely give you food for thought.

Words: Airlie Winter-Irving

www.edwardburtynsky.com